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DIY Brownie Bites

12 Mar

Those boxes of pre-packaged mini-muffins and mini-brownies torture me in the grocery store. It’s not because I want them (at all), but because my kids do. They see friends snarfing them down at lunchtime and it’s all “Mom, please!” and “I’ll never ask for anything ever again,” and “You can have some too!”

Bleh.

You can’t explain (well, you can, but it won’t matter) to a 10 year old that those packages only loosely fit into the category of “food.” The kids don’t care that almost nothing on the ingredient labels of those things is found on the shelf of any grocery store, and they also don’t care that four or five mini-muffins is more than any one child needs at any one sitting. You can explain all of this, but it won’t help. They still want them. They’re fun! And cool! And yummy!

Ick.

Know what helps? Taking 10 minutes to throw together your own mini-snacks out of real ingredients that you can identify and control, and then dividing them up into reasonable portions and tossing them into your freezer for later lunchbox distribution. It helps even more if you involve your kids in making the goodies, because everything tastes better when you had a hand in it, yes?

We talked about this awhile ago, and I shared my DIY Little Bites recipe with you (it’s still a hit around here). Yesterday, my daughter donned her pink apron and her chef’s hat and her oven mitt, and we spent those 10 minutes making bite-sized brownies to bag and freeze and put into lunchboxes today in pairs, which are far more reasonable than the portion size in the boxes of the factory-made bites.

This is my favorite brownie recipe (note: if you’re making brownies from a mix, please go read the labels. Recognize all of what’s there? Any of what’s there? Right. This seriously takes seconds to throw together.) with a little baking powder thrown in; that helps lighten these and make them rise just a touch, so they look like the commercially-produced brownie bites. They taste better, though, and they’re not full of dexty-hywhatsis or poly-bythingies. Simple, pure ingredients. Sweet.

Don’t skip the paper muffin liners on these. I tried it. It wasn’t pretty. Just a hint. 🙂

DD and I had a ball making these and they’re happy in my freezer and a welcome, much more reasonable treat than the stuff my kids used to beg for at the Giant. To make them, you need:

6 tbsp butter

2 squares (1 oz each) unsweetened baking chocolate

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

2/3 cup flour

1 tsp vanilla

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp baking powder

Heat your oven to 350 degrees and line a mini-muffin tin with paper liners.

Chop your chocolate (roughly) and cut your butter into tablespoons. Put those into a microwave-safe mixing bowl and nuke it for one minute. Take it out and stir it for a minute to melt the rest of the chocolate; if it doesn’t melt after stirring, nuke it again in 15-second increments, stirring well after each (over-nuking scorches chocolate. That’s gross.). If you don’t have a microwave, you can melt them together in the bowl set on top of a pan filled with water on the stove.

Once the chocolate is melted into the butter, stir in the sugar. Then, stir in the vanilla and eggs. Finally, stir in everything else. Drop by tablespoons into your mini-muffin tins and bake for about 12 minutes, or until done. Let cool.

I put mine into snack-sized bags, two in each bag, and then put all of those bags into a freezer bag and popped the whole mess into the cold box. In the morning, I pull out however many bags I want and put them into lunchboxes; they thaw in about 15 minutes.

Peanut Butter-Free Blossom Cookies

13 Feb

Y’all have seen the idea on Pinterest by now: You take a peanut butter blossom cookie recipe and make it with a heart-shaped Dove chocolate for Valentine’s Day. Cute, cute, cute.

Here’s the thing, though: peanut allergies are rampant, and if you want to send these little cuties in as a surprise in your kids’ lunchboxes, as I do, they can’t rightly have peanut butter in them. At least, I won’t send them that way. I know too many kids and one of my favorite people on earth who have nut allergies, and couldn’t live with myself if a cookie put them in harm’s way.

So today, I made up a batch of sugar cookie dough. Any one will do–choose your favorite. Only instead of rolling them out to cut with cookie cutters, use your palms to roll them into balls, with about a tablespoon of dough in each ball. Don’t squeeze them, or you’ll melt the butter inside and they’ll spread in the oven. You want a gentle roll. No heat.

Bake your dough balls as directed in your sugar cookie recipe. When they come out of the oven, gently press a Dove heart (or a Hershey Kiss) into the center of each cookie, and let them cool. My Dove hearts liquified (they held their heart shape, but they got soft and gooey), so I stuck them in the fridge after a few minutes to harden back up. And I have a perfect, nut-free treat to send in with my loves for lunch tomorrow (including the one I married–nobody tell!).

Happy, save, Valentine’s Day, gang!!

Trick or Treat!

31 Oct

Last year, I scored a fantabulous Jack-0′-lantern cake pan from Freecycle the day after Halloween. It wasn’t until I tried baking a cake in it that I realized why its original owner gave it away to a total stranger. That’s because it’s wide and flat, and trying to turn an actual cake out of it is a losing proposition. Crumble city, baby.

This morning, I sprayed the pan liberally with baking spray (basically Pam with flour added into the mix), poured a batch of the world’s best brownies in there, baked them an extra five minutes over what the recipe said, and then let them stay in that punkin’ pan until they were room temp all the way through. And then I slid my biggest cutting board overtop the pan, held it with one hand, and quickly flipped the whole contraption over.

Success! He’ll get orange frosting later, but I wanted to show you how well he turned out.

Happy Halloween, gang. May your diet be chocolate for just one day, may your little ghosts and goblins have a wonderful (safe!) evening tonight, and may you use a brownie recipe next time you need a shaped and formed cake. 🙂

Two Treats that are Excellent Tricks

26 Oct

Warp speed, gang. That’s the only way I can describe life in my house this week. Sports try-outs and field trips and dance class and Taekwondo and tons of work and a sick kid, oh my! So I don’t have a new recipe to share with you quite yet, but I do have two tricks that make some I’ve already posted more fun.

Are you on Pinterest yet? Holy addiction, Batman. If you are (and you really should be), you’ve seen all the pins to recipes that incorporate Halloween candy. Excellent idea, especially for the candy corn (any Lewis Black fans? Corn…that tastes like candy! Son of a …!). But if you’ve already tried to bake candy corn onto cookies or other sweet goodies, you’ve learned the lesson I figured out last year.

Candy corn melts in the oven. Into nothingness. You wind up with a sad orange dent where you thought the candy was going to be.

Fear not–there is a solution.

Yesterday, I made a pan of the most amazing brownies on the planet. I chucked in a handful of Ghiradelli chocolate chips that were wasting away in the pantry and baked them up. And then the second (the second!) they came out of the oven, I gently pressed candy corn onto the top of their yumminess. This works for brownies, cookies, or cake, all of which are soft and pliable in those first minutes out of the oven. You get a candy-studded goodie and the corn survives intact. Excellent.

Second trick:

DH was traveling this week. I miss him when he’s gone, but it’s a great opportunity to enjoy some recipes he’s not very fond of. One of those is the amazing turkey meatloaf I shared with you a few months back. I Texas-ed it up a bit, and it was amazing. To do that, add a tablespoon or two or Worcestershire to the meat mixture before you mix it up (I also used dried onion flakes instead of sauteeing onion in a pan, and that worked fine–so there’s a third tip for today!). Mold it into a loaf and put it on a lined cookie sheet, just like before. Only this time, instead of ketchup, use barbecue sauce on top.

Barbecue meatloaf. Yum, yes? YES! I had it for two nights with sweet potato fries on the side, and I was a happy single-mom camper.

Recipe tomorrow. I promise. Until then, happy tricking!

Chocolate Chip Cookie Cake

16 Aug

That up there is my breakfast. And it’s all Julie’s fault.

Besides being one of my favorite mom bloggers, Julie is a Twitter buddy of mine. About two weeks ago, she Tweeted me that she was enjoying a big slice of chocolate chip cake. And I have been slightly obsessed ever since (which is a sad commentary on my mental state, but I digress).

I found a recipe for a brown sugar chocolate chip cookie cake that sounded delicious. It baked up in a loaf pan, which was a huge bonus (I really really really do not need an entire bundt cake laying around), and was very similar to a chocolate chip cookie recipe. A cake that tastes like cookies? Sign me up.

But. (There’s always a but with me and recipes. Another slightly disturbing personal issue.) That recipe wanted pastry flour, and I am just not buying special flours I’ll never use again. I also wanted cake NOW, so a store run was out of the question.

It also wanted a lot of dark brown sugar and no white sugar at all, which meant it would burn really easily and turn bitter, and sounded really dense. It had a ton of butter in it, and it baked for a really long time at a really low temperature, which also contributed to that recipe’s photo looking a little blackened on the outside. If I’m baking a cake, I’m eating every bite, y’all. I’m not into chucking the crust.

I messed around with it and came up with this recipe. Which is delicious. It really tastes just like a chocolate chip cookie, but it’s cake. Talk about your matches made in heaven. And it’s super simple! I made it for dessert last night, but am finding it makes a darned tasty, if not entirely virtuous, breakfast. You need:

2 cups all-purpose white flour

1 cup light brown sugar

1/2 cup white sugar

3 eggs

1 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened (the original recipe had even more–ack!)

1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Spray a loaf pan (I strongly recommend Pyrex or clay/ceramic for this, so the crust doesn’t burn on you) with nonstick spray or coat it with butter.

In the bowl of your mixer, whip together the butter and sugars until they’re light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, and vanilla.

Mix together flour, baking powder, and salt. Beat into butter mixture in batches, mixing on low speed only long enough to incorporate everything together–overmixing will toughen up your cake. Mix in the chips with your last scoop of flour, so the chips get a little coated with flour before they go into the cake (this will keep them from sinking to the bottom of the pan in the oven).

Spread batter into your loaf pan and bake until a knife inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean–it was a little more than an hour for me. Cool it in the pan so it doesn’t break apart, carefully turn cooled cake onto a plate, and enjoy.

 

Chocolaty Pina Colada Bread

13 Jun

I didn’t like this much when I made it.

Singing endorsement of a recipe, eh? But my first reaction was one of weirdness. Banana bread with crunch. I shrugged, wrapped it up in plastic, and forgot about it until the next morning, when my daughter asked for a slice and started mmmmmmming in volumes that were completely inappropriate for that time of day.

I tried it again. It got better! The coconut flavor developed overnight, and this was pretty darned good!

It was also ridiculously simple–I chucked a handful of sweetened shredded coconut into my regular banana bread recipe, along with a half-cup of mini-chocolate chips. Once it rested for a day, it was very good, and different than banana bread altogether–in fact, the same kid asked me this morning, “Is there a little banana in this?”

I recommend this, but I also warn you to not expect much if you can’t resist it right out of the oven. You’ll like it more the next day. Trust me. You need:

1/3 cup shortening (do not use butter–it mucks up the texture)

1/2 cup sugar

2 eggs

1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour

2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp baking powder

2 overripe bananas

1/2 cup sweetened shredded coconut

1/2 cup mini chocolate chips

Heat your oven to 350 degrees and spray a loaf pan with nonstick spray or butter.

Cream together sugar and shortening in your mixer. Add eggs and beat well. Stir in a cup of the flour, the baking powder and soda, and salt. Then stir in a banana. Add the rest of the flour, stir to combine, and then the other banana. Then, with your mixer on very low, stir in the coconut and chips (keeping the mixer on low will stop the gluten from developing and keep your bread nice and soft).

Spread into the greased loaf pan and bake about 1 hour, until done. Cool on a wire rack, wrap it up tight in plastic, and try it the next day.

Salted Dark Chocolate Rolo Cookies

17 Dec

The recipe I posted the other day?

I messed with it. And I think this one is better.

I melted the butter to better incorporated it through the dough–you can only do this with doughs you’re going to chill for awhile afterwards or it’ll spread too much, and this one lives in the fridge at least overnight. I also used bread flour instead of AP to make these chewier, upped the vanilla to play off the caramel a bit more, used dark process cocoa instead of regular (I found Hershey Special Dark cocoa in my Soviet supermarket so you shouldn’t have any problem), added espresso powder to give the cocoa a little pop, and salted the dough before wrapping up the cookies, echoing the hot trend in caramel candies this year.

My kids and husband loved these. The first batch was gone in a day and a half. I really liked them too.

If you try both varieties of this recipe, let me know which you liked better. 🙂

You’ll need:

2 ½ – 2 ¾ cups bread flour — enough so dough is not sticky
¾ cup dark chocolate cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 tsp instant espresso powder
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup unsalted butter
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
2 eggs
48 Rolo brand chewy caramels
About a tablespoon of kosher salt
Melt the butter. Beat sugars and butter until fluffy, add eggs and vanilla and beat well. Stir together bread flour, baking soda, espresso powder, and cocoa. Add flour mixture to butter mixture and blend well. Cover and cool dough in fridge overnight.
Scoop cold dough out by heaping teaspoons. Flatten into discs. Sprinkle a pinch of salt over each disc, place a Rolo on top, and roll the dough around the candy, covering it completely. Bake 8 minutes at 350 degrees. Do not overbake; they will look quite soft. 

Cool in pan slightly then move to a piece of waxed paper. Cool completely.

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